THORNDIKE — Homesteader Frank Giglio offers up lunch: wild rice, some sauteed cabbage dressed with a blueberry vinegar, a chunk of lightly breaded, but still moist, pollock he caught on a fall fishing trip and marinated in a ginger-shoyu sauce. The wild rice came from Minnesota, where it was harvested by traditional methods (by hand, from a canoe) and nearly everything else is from Maine. Even the plate, made by Lincolnville ceramicist Ariela Nomi Kuh.
The food is simple, healthy and distractingly good. I have questions for Giglio and his wife, Camille, who went back to this land they call Three Lily Farm almost five years ago, but Scott and Helen Nearing pop into my head. They were homesteaders too, perhaps America’s most famous back-to-the-landers. They’re in my mind because I recently read Wendell Seavey’s droll memoir “Working the Sea,” in which the lobsterman from Bar Harbor tells the story about dropping by the Nearings’ home in Harborside in 1971. As with every story I’ve ever heard about the Nearings and visitors, Seavey was immediately “invited” to join Scott in farm/house work. After some hard labor involving wood, they gave him lunch.
It was all “vegetarian food” and Seavey, no vegetarian, began filling up on bread. Helen noticed and offered him some apple with peanut butter on it. That was clearly the highlight of that meal.
The Giglios are today’s homestead influencers, back-to-the-landers yes, but hardly ascetics. They are adroit on social media (each has about 7,000 followers on Instagram). They throw open their doors to visitors in the summer, but instead of making them chop wood, they have been teaching people how to make beautiful meals using local foods. Their Etsy shop is filled with carefully packaged goods made in their off-the-grid commercial kitchen, items like FG’s Hot Sauce and FG’s Strawberry Triple Mint Shrub (a vinegar-based beverage ideal for mixing with sparkling water, or into a cocktail). Camille makes items like Breezy Lips, a moisturizer that is “soft sexy soothing.” Camille herself is sexy. The Giglios are sexy. As I eat every grain of rice off my plate, I catch the eye of the Giglio’s younger son, Sunny, 11 months old and chewing on a piece of cabbage from his mother’s plate. I follow Frank Giglio, 38, on Instagram, where he posted a picture of the baby’s placenta along with his plans to make it into a powder and then capsules to boost Camille’s well-being. Thus I know that Sunny was born at home.
“Right here,” Camille, 31, tells me.
On the table?
No, in a birthing tub they brought in for the birth. Surrounded by a crowd of about 10 friends. “I love throwing parties,” she said, laughing.
The Giglios are not the Nearings, but then again, it has been 45 years since the Nearings served peanut butter and apple slices to a hungry lobsterman. Times change, even for homesteaders.
The couple were friends before they were a couple. Frank grew up in Connecticut, eating Italian-American food (lots of subs, he says), Camille in Louisiana and then, from the time she was 8, in southern Maine.
They’d both done a lot of traveling in their youth. Inspired by the slew of celebrity chefs popping up on the Food Network 20 years ago, Frank had gone to the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont with ambitions of following in the footsteps of “Emeril and Mario.” But in 2003 he’d had a breakthrough that this was not the life for him and quit restaurant work in favor of working at a health-food store. “I dove headfirst into natural foods,” he said. “And then went on my own health mission.”
That included studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York and becoming a raw vegan. He even cooked at a raw food spa in Arizona.
“I was an extremely dogmatic vegan,” he said. “I would tell you everything bad about what you were eating or wearing.”
Both were friends with Daniel Vitalis, who has his own cult following as one of the leaders of the Rewilding movement. And they kept bumping into each other on the health-food circuit at events in places like Sedona, Arizona, or in Hawaii, where Camille lived for a year. “That was like MySpace time,” Frank says. “We would sort of talk here and there.” Both were with other partners. “We weren’t like BFFs or anything.” Then Frank offered to help Camille’s mother put on a health-food event in York.
“We got together that weekend,” Frank said. “That was seven years ago and we haven’t been apart since.”
“Eight,” Camille reminds him. They married seven years ago.
Together, and under Vitalis’ influence, they transitioned into meat eaters. Not have-a-burger kind of meat eaters, but making videos of preparing beef tartare kind of meat eaters. The vegan community was not happy.
“There was major backlash,” Frank said. “People were like, ‘You’re going to die.’ ”
They look hale and very hearty and say they’re done with veganism. (To the point where they raised and processed pigs on Three Lily Farm last year; there’s still some prosciutto in the house from that experiment).
When they were just starting out as a couple they lived in Jackson, New Hampshire, but had an urge to settle in Maine and start seriously homesteading. Frank had always had gardens, but he wanted to go deeper.
“It became more like, ‘I want to grown my own food and really get to the source of everything.’ I got into fermentation and started making my own honey wine.”
They found their property in Thorndike via Craigslist. It has a spring-fed pond (which makes a stellar skating rink for their older son Wilder, 5, and a good swimming hole in the summer) and grapevines and fruit trees planted by the previous owner and now supplemented by the Giglios. The house is solar-powered and has a root cellar for winter storage of those fermented foods as well as dairy and fresh meat, fish and vegetables. A 700-cubic foot chest freezer runs year round.
Their adopted home also has what they describe as an amazing food community. Portland, with its thriving restaurant scene, is something to be admired, they say, but what they’ve got going on in the Thorndike area is impressive in its own right. It’s just not happening so much in the public eye.
“It’s almost underground up here,” Frank said.
Yes, they’re 12 minutes away from The Lost Kitchen in Freedom, but that’s a destination spot that even locals can’t get into. It’s been two years since the Giglios have landed a table there. When they want their fix of restaurant food, they head to Camden for Long Grain or to Rockland to eat at Primo.
THE GILDED LILY
If that underground has a locus, it may well be Three Lily Farm. From there, Frank manages the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association’s kitchen, just down the road in Unity. He teaches classes at MOFGA and is becoming a regular at Stonewall Kitchen’s cooking school, where this winter he taught “Cooking with Root Vegetables.”
He’s cooked at the Unity Food Hub in collaboration with Maine Farmland Trust. When Matthew Secich, another former restaurant chef who runs the much loved Charcuterie in Unity, is in a pinch with customers out the door, and Frank hears about it (say from Camille, waiting in line) Frank is likely to hop in the car and drive over to help out.
They also use their property as a teaching center in the summer months. They’ve held homesteading workshops there, although their typical guest tends to be less the aspiring homesteader than the aspiring home cook. “Mostly women from urban areas,” Frank says.
They are savvy multitaskers, running events and creating products that speak to their individual strengths. Their joint catering gigs specialize in “purposeful cuisine.” Frank ghostwrites cookbooks and works regularly with Dr. Mark Hyman, the best-selling author who founded the UltraWellness Center. An e-book cookbook the Giglios created together, “The Butter Book,” features Frank’s recipes and Camille’s eye for design, as well as the photography of Forest Aragon, the art director for The Fullest, a California-based wellness publication.
Camille worked as a personal assistant to David Wolfe, the man behind the NutriBullet (and its infomercial) and along the way she picked up the kind of video and design skills that have taught her how to build websites (including their own), shoot video for Frank’s online cooking workshops and package the goods they sell on Etsy.
They have that uncanny gift of making lifestyle seem desirable and within grasp, even if there are not, in truth, many people who could move to Thorndike and sustain off-the-grid lives. And they seem to do it transparently. When Frank posted a photograph of an enticing and enormous jar of bright green cucumbers in the process of pickling on Instagram last year, the oohs and ahs echoed through the comments. Where, one commenter asked, did he get that jar? “Target” he wrote back. No dogmatic narrative there, just the truth; sometimes modern homesteaders shop at Target.
They also have come to shop local from markets and farms not their own. The Giglios might forage for mussels and tap their own maple trees (Frank made nearly three gallons of syrup last year), but they’ve also developed a realistic sense of what they can do with their time on the land. That cabbage at lunch came from North Branch Farm in Monroe, the blueberries in the vinegar were B-grade bargains from After the Fall Farm. As he gathered bark from wild cherry and yellow birch trees to make his “root beer” mead (that’s what it tastes like, he says), Frank pointed out a cabin on the property. It’s adorable, but in disrepair. Frank could spend this coming summer slaving over his gardens.
“Or I could fix up that cabin,” he said.
Instead of trying to do it all, Nearing style, he does what he can. On the to-do list at Three Lily Farm is adding an ice house so that they can harvest ice out of the pond. He’s seen how the Amish use pond ice for year-round refrigeration, and he’d happily replace their electric fridge with ice.
But some machines will never go. Far from banning technology, they welcome it. Wilder is learning how to forage, but he also watches television. His parents don’t want him walking everywhere with an iPad but they also don’t want to send him out into the world unequipped to deal with technology. It’s too important.
“Technology is too advanced to say ‘I’ll never use technology,’ ” Frank said.
It’s all about balance, he said. “There are days where I am on the computer all day. There are days where I am out on the land all day.”
“Tech has allowed us to make a living and be home,” he added. “If I had to go work a job every day of the week, I don’t know how I would be able to manage this property.”
Mary Pols can be contacted at 791-6456 or at: